By Jane Smith

    The Florida Association of Recovery Residences is struggling to pay for its sober home certification program after it did not receive state money.
    Starting July 1, Florida-licensed drug and alcohol treatment centers can no longer discharge patients or refer clients to recovery residences that are not certified.
    “The department has not and does not pay for a recovery residence to be credentialed,” said Paige Patterson-Hughes, southeast spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families. The $100,000 in state money given to the Boca Raton-based Florida Association of Recovery Residences in the last budget year was for setting up the system, not to pay for certifying sober homes.
    FARR continues to seek donations from the public and other stakeholders.
    The voluntary nature of the certifications explains the gap between the low number of certified recovery residences compared with the proliferation of sober homes in south county cities.
    In Delray Beach, the mayor estimates the city has hundreds of single-family and multifamily sober homes. FARR’s website lists 35 certified recovery residences as of late June.
    “The voluntary nature of the new statute has been viewed by many with much skepticism,” said Mayor Cary Glickstein. “I see it as a very small step in the right direction, although defunding even the voluntary registration demonstrates a lack of concern or understanding in Tallahassee.”
    Boca Raton officials said they don’t know how many sober homes exist in their city. FARR has certified three there.
    “We worked to get the voluntary certification last year,” said Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie. “We will continue to work on this issue to protect our neighborhoods.”
    The voluntary certifications are a step in the right direction, said County Commissioner Steven Abrams, whose district covers Boca Raton, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach. “But ultimately the answer lies on the federal level.”
    Cities have been sued successfully under federal laws for violating the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. People living in sober-living situations are seen as a family unit and cities have lost in court when they create zoning laws to ban them.
    Boynton Beach has 49 registered and possibly more exist that “are flying under the radar,” said Saleica Brown, the city’s business development specialist. FARR has certified 18 locations in that city.
    FARR’s president, John Lehman, said his nonprofit group has certified 84 programs operating 250 locations statewide, as of late June. Another 100 programs are in the pipeline, he said. FARR’s website needs to be updated, he said, and likely doesn’t have the most recent figures.
    The association charges a $100 application fee plus $300 per single-family home or duplex, with the amount capped at $2,400. The certification lasts for one year.
    FARR follows the state law detailing what a policy and procedures manual for a certified recovery residence should contain: job descriptions for all staff, drug-testing procedures, prohibition against using alcohol and illegal drugs, policies to promote recovery efforts, a good neighbor policy to address community concerns, rules for residents, copies of all forms provided to residents, relapse policy, fee schedule, eviction procedures, proof of insurance, proof of background screening, code of ethics and proof of satisfactory fire, safety and health inspections.
    The organization hires field personnel to inspect each home. The inspector interviews staff, volunteers and residents to make sure the home is following its policy and procedures.
    The certification process takes at least one month. “It depends on how prepared they are and whether they have residents,” Lehman said. “We can’t measure a residence without residents.”
    FARR needs $100,000 annually to do the certifications statewide, Lehman said. Most of the money would be for staff to make on-site visits. In addition, 25 percent of the certified residences must be visited for renewal, according to standards set by the National Alliance for Recovery Residences.
    The state allows FARR to charge a $100 renewal fee.
    Lehman also wants to set up an education arm to create a designation called Certified Recovery Residence Administrator. FARR would hold that person accountable because of the continuing education offered.
    The continuing education would be set up as a lunch-and-learn program, costing about $200,000, Lehman said.
State law allows the organization to charge up to $225 for the administrator’s application, examination and certification fee. The renewal fee may not exceed $100.
    That program was supposed to start April 1, according to state law.
    “What we are unable to accomplish without additional funding is random compliance audits and educational seminars to enhance the quality of services provided by certified programs,” Lehman said.
    Last year, Lehman helped CashBox Solutions create a PayPal-like software program for recovery homes and other businesses, according to the FARR website. He developed the payment-system software that he called “PayPal on steroids” at the request of a sober home operator.
    His wife runs CashBox and he spends 50-60 hours weekly on FARR as a volunteer, Lehman said.
    CashBox initially shared its office space, equipment and employees with FARR in Boca Raton. Lehman said the two entities began to separate in July 2015 when FARR received the state money. Since then, CashBox has moved to Boynton Beach, he said.
    A self-described recovering addict who has been sober since 2007, Lehman said he knows what a positive recovery residence experience can do. He attended his first 12-step meeting in 1978.
    Neither FARR nor DCF can police the recovery residences because federal laws protect recovering addicts as a disabled class from state and local discriminatory laws.
    That’s why south county cities are seeking federal assistance.
    South Florida is “ground zero for the heroin crisis in the country,” U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel said in early May. “We have to let people recover from addictions, but we have to keep our neighborhoods safe and healthy.”
    She was able to persuade an assistant secretary from U.S. Housing and Urban Development to tour Delray Beach sober homes. They saw suitcases and clothes on lawns, indicating that someone recently was evicted. The HUD secretary promised to work with Department of Justice lawyers to craft a joint statement to be released in August.
    “I consider federal assistance to be the linchpin for real change,” Glickstein said, “defined as true home rule authority for local governments to enact ordinances best suited for their cities and counties.”
    County Commissioner Abrams, who attended Frankel’s May forum, agrees. He was Boca Raton mayor in 2003 when the city was sued in federal court over zoning laws created to protect its neighborhoods. Boca Raton lost that case in 2007 when the federal judge ruled that the zoning laws discriminated against recovering addicts.

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